As Malnutrition, cholera darken hopes of IDPs in Northeast Nigeria

By Abdulkareem Haruna 

After spending nearly three years at the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, Amna Ba'akolo still believes her life could have been better in the outside. 

She was 29 years old when Boko Haram gunmen attacked her community, Kawuri, under Konduga council area of Borno state. Kawuri is about 45km southwest of Maiduguri. 

Amna said she was carrying a five months old pregnancy when she escaped an attack by Boko Haram. She had three other kids. Two girls and a boy. They all made it on foot to Maiduguri on foot. 

"I never thought I could pull through the bushes with my 16 months old boy strapped on my back while dragging my 5 and 3 years old girls with my both hands", she recalled. 

From time to time, as they bruised through the bushes, she had to stop to carry the younger girl, Falmata when her legs became tired. 

Without any personal effect the family of four hoofed barefooted into Maiduguri where they joined hundreds of other  IDPs in the camps.

That was about three years ago. 

Amna, now in her early 30s looks so much older than her age.  Her face was a bit pale as sadness seemed to have clouded her features. Her expression dulled as she spoke with Kareem's Pick. 

"I have buried my son and one of my daughters", she said as a tiny tear dropped from the side of her corner. She quickly wiped it off as though it was an abomination. She went blank for a moment. 

"They were hungry. The medics said it was malnutrition. The two of them died within an interval of three weeks. I almost lost my youngest child too, but God has been sustaining him till now", she said. 

Amna said she almost committed suicide, but clerics warned her of the wrath of God upon who ever mourns excessively over the death of loved ones. Even too much tears could become a sin. 

"She has been warned not to grief too much because some deaths - especially of children could be a test from God who gave them to us", said Modu Baaji, my translator and a distant cousin of Amna. 

The griefing mother disclosed that she is a widow. She came to the camp alone, without her husband who had gone missing about three months before Boko Haram struck at kawuri. 

"My husband was a fisherman. He was very hard working and he love me and our children. But some months before Boko Haram attacked our village, he went on a fishing expedition and the following day we heard that Boko Haram had attacked some fishermen on the bank of Alau river. We were told that  most of them were beheaded and thrown into the water. Since I never saw my husband return, I knew he may have been killed. I was observing the four months mourning ritual of his death when Boko Haram attacked", she said. 

Amnaa said though she had accepted the fate that befell her in the camp, it was still very difficult moving on with the heavy heart of losing her husband and then her kids in the camp. 

According to Amna, she used to live in Baga, a fishing community near the shores of Lake Chad. They had to relocate about six years ago when Boko Haram began to attack and kill people fishing in the Lake. 

IDPs on the shore of a river near Lake Chad
"I was newly married to my husband then, and he felt my life and his would not be safe there in Baga so he had to move to Kawuri where his senior brother was living. After we had settled down and began to raise our family, the Boko Haram came and took my husband away and then sent me here in the camp, where sickness and hunger took my two kids".

She said though, the worry of how to feed four mouths was reduced for her by the death of her kids, she still believes the living ones are still not getting the best. 

"I have nobody here", she said as the rebellious tears again formed in her eyes. She kept blinking intermittently to avoid them betraying her now tabooed emotion. 

"I have to wait for handouts from the camp officials before I can feed my kids and myself. That is not good, and does not make me proud as a mother". 

She wished she was not in the camp like some other women in her condition who are living in the host communities. 

"There is freedom out there in the host communities. I heard the women could move freely and they go about seeking alms which people give out to them generously. They live better than us in here. They eat good foods and they even buy things on their own", she said. 

Amna said she still gives thanks to God because she lives with some other persons who had suffered more grief than hers. 

"Sometimes, when I visit or meet other women and hear their stories, I feel mine was nothing. But there is no grief that is small", she said. 

Kareem's Pick gathered from credible sources that many children and even adults have died of acute and or severe malnutrition in the most of the IDP camps. 

Ba'aji said many children have died either due to malnutrition or cholera. 

According to the Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontier), about 240 children have died of malnutrition as at July 2017. Over 12, 000 cases of malnutrition were so far recorded and treated within the IDP camps and host communities. 

The MSF had also said that some 48 persons - mostly children - have died of cholera diseases as at September 2017 due to the poor hygiene and unkept environment within the IDP camps in Maiduguri. 
Ba'aji said there are more cases of deaths in the camps which are not recorded. 

"You know how our people take life and religion here. We allow our religious act of worship to take preeminence here; so if someone dies now, we don't engage in long investigation or any kind of blame game - the person is buried almost immediately - sometimes even the camp officials might not know", he explained. 

But how did Borno, one of Nigeria's foremost food production hub got to this stage? 

"Before now; I am talking about 15 to 10 years ago, we knew nothing about hunger or malnutrition or even the epidemic of cholera", Baaji recalled. 

"In the past our people live peacefully in their respective communities, where they farm, fish or breed their livestocks. We were very hard working and proud people. We don't beg to eat; we eat well, clothe modestly, live in humble but decent homes. That was a perfect life for us back then. But about nine years ago, our story changed when Boko Haram emerged and became armed. 

"They forced our youths to join them, and even many others who had no jobs were said to have willingly joined Boko Haram to fight what they called holy war", he said. 

Since June 2009 when the late Muhammed Yusuf group picked up arms against the government of Nigeria, more than 3 million people mostly women and children were displaced. About 20, 000 lives were lost in the nine years of the senseless war. 

Governor of Borno state, Mr Kashim Shettima, had on several fora blamed the cause of Boko Haram insurgency on poor literacy, destitution and joblessness. 

He said these three problems need to be addressed frontally in order to address or end what he called the world's deadliest insurgency.

"The root cause of this madness, this insanity, is extreme poverty," he said. 

Larger portion of Borno state, the epicentre of Nigeria's home grown terror  group, Boko Haram, lies on the shore of the receded Lake Chad. 

Lake Chad was, in the past, one of the largest landlocked lakes in the world. It covered more than 25,000 square kilometers (9,700 square miles). 

Its enormous water resources feed more than 17 million people living in the riparian communities of Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. 

Map of Lake Chad showing a graphic timeline of its drying shores
(Map photo obtained from Brooking Web
The Lake began its journey towards extinction in the early 1970 when scientists began to notice its shrinkage and widening shores. Today the size of Lake Chad only covers about 580 square miles. 

Experts on Lake Chad said the droughts that were recorded in  the 1970s and 1980s further caused the Lake to dry up almost completely. 

It was explained that the riparian communities especially from the Nigerian communities continue to follow the fast receding Lake. This movement led to series of communal clashes between farmers, herdsmen and even the fishermen as all continued to fight over the limited resources of the dried lake. 

As a matter of fact, many Nigerians who live on the bank of the Lake suddenly found themselves in the territories of either Chad or Cameroon, a development that further stirred up international diplomatic conflict. 

The drying of the Lake which was caused by severe climatic change has made thousands of people who once depend on its resources for sustenance to loose jobs. This unfortunate natural crisis had left many people in the north-east of Nigeria without jobs as poverty and extreme state of lack set in. 

Many Nigerians, like the widow Amna Ba'akolo and her husband, who could not stand the attendant communal conflicts or the hostilities of the Cameroonian gendarmes had to move back into the Nigerian territory  - unfamiliar terrain. 

Many jobless families of the shores of Lake Chad could not afford to enrol their wards in schools; a situation that eventually increased the high rate of illiteracy in the region. 

UN's Under Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman had in his briefing to the UN Security council in September  2017 lamented that "the Lake Chad Basin crisis has wreaked havoc on basic infrastructure, assets and government services". 

He said the insecurity has sparked "large-scale unemployment and left 1 million school-age children deprived of education. 

That the substantial economic impact of the crisis has reached nearly $9 billion across north-east Nigeria alone.  

According to him "Poverty, low legitimacy of the State, human insecurity and climate change, among other challenges, compound this dire situation. As is so often the case, women and the youth are key risk groups".

He said unfortunately, the Boko Haram crisis "is far from over".  

"A total of 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the four affected countries in June and July resulted in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase compared to 146 attacks and 107 civilian fatalities in April and May. The most affected countries remained Nigeria, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad". 

The federal government of Nigeria had on 25 September 2017 assented to a bill that establishes the commission for the development of war wrecked north-east Nigeria. The commissions mandate is to receive and manage funds allocated by the Federal Government and international donor agencies for the resettlement, rehabilitation, integration and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency in the region.

Part of the specific functions of the Commission would be the provision of "…infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation. 

But before the new law buds out of the typical Nigeria bureaucratic bottleneck - Amna Bakolo wished herself and her two remaining kids are let out of the IDP camp. 


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